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The Enigmatic Wilmott Smerdon Mack

theserpentEverything about Wilmott Smerdon Mack is a mystery and researching this character has always been perplexing. He is a character, my wife Celia’s Grandfather, that I am always drawn back to; would another look find some new information? The result is always the same – nothing – and I fear that this mystery will always remain unsolved. To some extent he is a mystery of his own making and I sometimes think that he made every effort to hide from us as an unconventional and a roguish, if not rakish character. There are many examples of this in his story.

Wilmott Smerdon Mack was born on 17 June 1875. He was one of the youngest of the seven children of John Arthur Joseph Mack and his wife Susan née Smerdon; John and Susan were married on 19 September 1864 at The Parish Church in Hackney and there is another chapter that features this family The Smerdon Link. This was an upper middle class family, his father a banker in the City of London and his mother the daughter of a tobacconist and cigar manufacturer, also in the ‘square mile’. In 1881 they had a grand property at 9 Downs Road, Dalston, Hackney, London with domestic servants, a cook and a housemaid, all the trappings of achievable wealth in the late Victorian period.  By 1891 they had moved to an equally impressive home at Eldon House (no.12) Leyland Road, Lee, Lewisham and Wilmott’s 54 year old father John Mack is, according to the census of that year, already retired and living on his own means. The seven children and siblings of Wilmott were Arthur William born in 1866, Roselle Bertha born in 1867, Cecilia Louise born in 1869, Edward Percy and Alice Claire both born in 1871,  here was Wilmott Smerdon, followed by the youngest Cecil born in 1877; they have little significance to Wilmott in this story, except his oldest sister Roselle.

On 1st January 1898 Wilmot Smerdon Mack married Marian Lena Firth at the Registry Office at Richmond, Surrey, they were both 22 years old. Marian or Marianne was shown as the daughter of a Henry Firth a deceased army captain and Frederica Augusta Firth née Blyth, of Belgian origin, and they lived at a prestigious house called Gardenhurst, Maze Road close to the famous Kew Gardens. Wilmott, describing himself as an insurance clerk, was living at Thetis Road, also in Kew.  No relatives witnessed the marriage, only friends William Watson and Charles Baily.  On 5th February 1898 there was a further wedding ceremony for Wilmott and Marianne at The Parish Church of Kew in the County of Surrey. On this occasion Marianne’s mother and her brother Sidenham Firth, together with Wilmott’s sister Roselle were present and witnessed the marriage.

Percy Wilmot Blyth Mack, a son to Marianne and Wilmott, was born in Sunbury/Staines, Middlesex, recorded in the June quarter of 1898, a matter of months later. But by the 31st March 1901, according to the census of that date, Wilmott, was recorded as being a 26 years old boarder at an address in Lambeth, whilst Marianne and their son Percy are to be found in South Fulham. Thereafter, I can never find them together. There is a further reference to Percy Wilmot Blyth Mack later in this story.

Prudence Eleanor Cook was born on 27th February 1864. She was the daughter of Livett Cook, a master printer, and Prudence Cook, formerly Abercrombie, both of Clarendon Street, Camberwell. On the 24th February 1903 a son, Gerald Mack, was born to Prudence and Wilmott at 14 Camberwell New Rd in the London Borough of Lambeth, London. Prudence was nine years senior to Wilmott and, although declared to be husband and wife, there is no evidence of a marriage.

Wilmott variously describes himself in the records as a clerk, and insurance clerk, an artist,  a signwriter,  a commercial artist and also a fine artist.  On 1 April 1907 Eleanor, as she refers to herself and would be wife of Wilmot Smerdon Mack gives birth to Norman Mack at a rented property, 7 Allworthy Avenue, off the Antrim Road, Belfast. Wilmott Smerdon Mack is declared as the father when the birth is registered by Eleanor but this is the last time he can be found in any records. This is confounding, particularly, because the name Wilmott Smerdon Mack is extremely rare in every sense, as we discussed in the other chapter.

By The 1911 Census, Eleanor and sons Gerald, aged 8, & Norman, aged 4 years, are back in Sydenham South East London and she describes herself as a widow. Eleanor Mack declares that she had completed 9 years of marriage and that she is a flag maker for the Turtle Company working at home, 9 Champion Crescent, Lower Sydenham. 

When, on 20th November 1922, Prudence Eleanor Mack died aged 57 years at Lewisham Hospital, 390 High Street Lewisham, originally the site of the Lewisham Workhouse in 1817, her death was registered by her son Gerald Mack of  66a Highclere Street, Sydenham where Prudence had lived with her sons. She was again shown as Wilmott’s widow.

Both Gerald and his younger brother Norman were to live at this address for many years, according to the register of local voters. Around 1935 Norman went overseas to British Guiana in The West Indies where he worked as a Sugar Plantation Overseer. And, his older brother Gerald Mack married Millicent Lillian Brian on 29th June 1940. The marriage certificate records that Gerald’s father was Wilmott Smerdon Mack, a commercial artist. It might be the case that some family history stories were passed down by Gerald and Millicent about Wilmott Smerdon Mack, but there were not although he wasn’t spoken of in complimentary terms, so we are left to wonder.

And what of  Percy Wilmot Blyth Mack, Wilmott Smerdon Mack’s son by Marianne Lena Firth.  As an act of true disassociation from his father, on 19th May 1930, Percy lodged a deed at The Central Office of the Royal Courts of Justice renouncing and abandoning the use of the surname Mack and assuming, in lieu thereof, the surname of Douglas. Clearly the Firth Family were eager to wash their hands of Wilmott once and for all. As Percy Wilmot Douglas he was later a distinguished Pilot Officer (74481) during WWII.

So many questions remain unanswered and with no stories about Wilmott Smerdon Mack passed down from his sons Gerald and Norman and the fatal blow of rejection from his son Percy I am unable to provide a final epitaph in this tale. With a name so rare it would be impossible to simply disappear and this more than suggests that Wilmott Smerdon Mack, himself, played a role in his own mystery. 

We choose and love spouses but we cannot always feel the same about some ancestors. Wilmott was undoubtedly a ‘black sheep’ and will forever remain an enigmatic character in this family history.

 


There are variant spellings of WILMOT – Willmot, Wilmot and Wilmott

There are a number of documents available from this story, including the Marriage Certificates of Wilmott Smerdon Mack & Marianne Lena Firth, and they can be found on Documents. To view Documents a password must be requested.

Percy Wilmot Douglas – THE LONDON GAZETTE, 3 OCTOBER, 1939 – The undermentioned are granted commissions for the duration of hostilities as Pilot Officers on probation on the dates stated:— 26th Sept. 1939. Percy Wilmot DOUGLAS (74481). The London Gazette
THE LONDON GAZETTE, 20 DECEMBER, 1940 – The undermentioned Pilot Officers on probation are confirmed in their appointments, 26th Sept. 1940, Percy Wilmot DOUGLAS (74481).
The London Gazette